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This morning the following video was dropped on Twitter, and it’s been lighting up our comments, so here:
So, basically, “A Hard Day’s Night,” circa 1969—which is what lots of Beatles fans wanted in 1970, and maybe even more want in 2020. It’s really striking to see them doing the same kinds of cuts and capers they did in 1964, but with High Hippiedom swirling about them, and Yoko playing the role of Patti Boyd.
Anybody who’s ever cut together a film knows that the narrative is created by the editing; and Jackson’s narrative is plainly meant to counterbalance the “Get Back sessions were torture” narrative that has existed since the original movie appeared. Is this is good thing? Well, it’s certainly an entertaining thing, and the Beatles were entertainers then and a brand now. So a happy re-edit makes a certain kind of sense, and I will queue up along with the rest of you and excitedly so.
But I will be keeping two things in mind.
The first is that “Let It Be” was what it was, because of the time in which it was created. 1969/70 popular culture was filled with myth-busters and antiheroes; it was the year of Easy Rider, a year where the spectacularly grubby Midnight Cowboy (!) won Best Picture. Incidentally, the most important British film of that year, the anti-patriotic Oh! What a Lovely War, was nearly a Beatles project. According to producer Len Deighton, he and Paul McCartney had lunch in 1967, discussing a version of the movie starring the Fabs and using new music by them (rather than the period music that forms the emotional center of the play, and eventually, film).
Some part of this late-60s demolition was simply fashion, grist for the mill; but at its best, there was a well thought out, humane philosophy behind it, a belief that myths get people killed. So, what did the Beatles wish to say to their fans, circa 1969? Here is what we really are, here is what it really is. Don’t be fooled (perhaps like we were). I discuss the unremittingly dour Let It Be, and its possibilities, at some length here.
So Let It Be was and will ever be a drag, but a Beatle movie that showed the Fabs “trousers off” was just as in tune as AHDN had been in 1964. In 1969, showing a Beatle with pimples wasn’t mere nihilism, it was an artistic statement, and it was one that Chief Beatle Lennon was 100% committed to, as well as the others. So rather than the footage being edited to prettify it, to shine lime-colored light on the group’s smoothest showman (as Lennon famously groused), I suspect LIB was edited with this verité aspect in mind, skewing a bit towards the negative.
If that’s one thought the other will be this: It wasn’t just how Let It Be was edited that has given it the shabby reputation it has. At/near the time, everybody dismissed that period and those sessions as a godawful drag—that is why we all thought it! We were taking our lead from J/P/G/R, the only people who would know, and their opinion was consistent. If Jackson’s Get Back is a ball and a blast, it’s running counter to what John, Paul, George, and even Ringo said during the 70s and 80s. This is heavy revisionism and should be judged as such. By the time of the Anthology, with no John around to bust myths, and when it was abundantly clear that there would be no new Beatles—hence even downer Beatles was pretty damn great—everyone’s opinions on January 1969 started to soften. That process has ultimately culminated in this project. Our ravening need for Beatle content meant that even Let It Be would inevitably be coated in the honey of nostalgia. It’s only remarkable that it’s taken this long.
One last point: this project was inspired by Peter Jackson’s “They Shall Not Grow Old,” which uses AI and other digital tricks to turn footage from 1914-18 into something more recognizable as reality. For anyone interested in World War I, the modernization of the images performs a tremendous service—we suddenly see those men as real people, not herky-jerky shadows engaged in some ghoulish puppetshow. The digital trickery—from interpolation of frames to colorization to dubbing—turned something made to seem unreal, feel real again.
What’s going on here with Get Back is different. We already know these men; the technology used in Let It Be does not make them feel distant. It’s the content of that story that is alienating, and it was alienating to us because that’s how it felt to John, Paul, George, and Ringo. But as much as we (and they) didn’t like it, there’s nothing in the past 51 years that has suggested the fractious, smothering story depicted in Let It Be was wrong.
It seems that what Jackson and his crew are attempting is to change the content, so that we have a LIB-era Beatles the way we wish they’d been—and maybe the way THEY wish they been—rather than how they really were. As much as I think Lennon and Harrison would’ve enjoyed counting the money—and Get Back post-COVID will be massive—I think those two particularly would’ve had qualms. Stardom was not easy for them; it took big bites out of them, it scarred them. John and George were especially interested in myth-busting because they felt what living as myths had done to their soul, and weren’t sure the trade had been worth it. Perhaps not coincidentally, they were the ones who left us early. So when I’m watching Get Back—and enjoying it—I’ll be hearing cautionary whispers from John and George. Whether they make you go over the top at the Somme, or make you smoke, or walk New York without a bodyguard, myths can get you killed.